It’s the question that I’m sure every author gets asked at somepoint:
“What made you decide to take up writing?”
I’m sure there’s a lot of profound answers out there, but if I had to pick one reason that led me to want to write, I think it’s really pretty self-explanatory:
I did it for the chicks, man.
Now that I’ve got the bad jokes out of my system, and before the offended parties light up their pitchforks, the truth is I’m by nature a very creative person (bad jokes not withstanding). I’ve always been doing something creative; All through high school I was in the band, and my college career actually began on a musical path. I drew, I built models, I cannibalized Lego sets to build X-wing fighters before Lego got the idea to do itthemselves, and I still do a bit of 3D modeling in my spare time.
Writing actually started pretty early for me, and I’ll admit that the very first things I ever wrote were probably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-related (I was 7 when the Fred Wolff cartoon first aired, cut me some slack). But if I were to pick one thing that truly got me started wanting to write, it was Sierra’s Quest for Glory series.
For those of you who missed out on the glory (no pun intended) days of computer gaming in the 1980s and 1990s, the big genre on the PC was the adventure genre. The Big Two developers of the time were LucasArts and Sierra, who both took two different approaches. LucasArts’s games were much more forgiving, while Sierra delighted in murdering you in as varied, hilarious, and humiliating ways as possible. And I’m not kidding; Leisure Suit Larry killed you in one scene if you flushed the toilet! While console games of the time usually only had as much story as they needed to kick off the gameplay, that wasn’t the case for adventure games. In an adventure game you lived the story.
Nowadays deep storytelling in games is an expectation, and ever since Half-Life even shooters have gotten in on the act. In fact aside for a few genre throwback-style games, it’s quite rare for a game not to have an actual plot guiding it forward, but it’s easy to take for granted that, up until the late-90s, a game having a deep an engaging story was the exception.
In 1989 Sierra brought something a little bit different to the table, mixing their typical text-driven adventure game interface with the now-familiar Fighter/Wizard/Thief trifecta of character classes, along with the ability to build up and improve your skills over the course of the game. Then toss generous helpings of self-referential humor, horrible puns, and winks and nods to Germanic fairy tales and mythology, with a dash of mature and serious plot, and hit “puree.” This was Quest for Glory I, and with one title my love of fantasy, and desire to write fantasy,was born.
The Quest for Glory series stood out even among Sierra’s other adventure series of the era, with an eclectic cast — many of whom recurred throughout the series — and a feeling that the choices the lead character made mattered. It was possible to render the game unwinnable by stealing from the wrong character, or any number of other foolish decisions. And by design the game wouldn’t tell you. With the introduction of the Paladin in Quest for Glory II, those choices became even more important in defining who the character was as a person. Quest for Glory IVtook the character development and relationships, and depth of storytelling, even further with the introduction of tragic villain Katrina (voiced by the inimitable Jennifer Hale in her first voiceover role). IV marked one of the first mainstream games ever to make it possible to play the main character as if they were falling in love, even giving a dialog option for it at a critical moment in the plot. It had no effect on the outcome of the game, but almost two decades before Bioware’s RPGs made romance sidequest’s a standard RPG feature, Quest for Glory IVincluded it for no other reason than for storytelling.
My very first fantasy story actually began as a loose Quest for Glory fanfic. Over time it started to evolve, but I was never satisfied with how it was turning out. Throughout high school I played with different ideas to varying degrees of maturity (though never more than a few chapters), reworking some and abandoning others. During that time my dad put The Lord of the Rings in my hands, and to this day I consider Tolkien the standard by which I judge fantasy world-building. It was something I wanted to do: Create a world that could live, breathe, and endure, but somehow I just couldn’t quite find the right formula.
Eventually I decided to take a bit of a step back and try something a bit smaller. Rather than the high fantasy of Gloriana and Middle-earth I set my sights on a world much more low-fantasy, and instead of a sprawling epic I aimed for something a bit smaller and more personal. I knew I wanted to use a female protagonist, which I had worked with on my abortive high fantasy, as the idea of taking the traditional fighting, drinking, and wenching antihero, but making him a woman instead, appealed to me. TV Tropes would call her The Lad-ette, and it was a way to play with the conventions and expectations of the reader. The first attempt wasn’t quite right, so I borrowed the elements I thought worked and played with what didn’t.
One of the first steps I took in revising the story was how I developed the world in which it was set. Ever since I first stepped into the world of Gloriana I had an interest in swords and swordfighting. In addition to boffer fighting (which I still regularly participate in. Don’t get any ideas from Role Models, the group I’m in is very hard-contact. Think high school-level hockey with swords) I did a bit of sport fencing in college, but most recently — around the time I was first working on this shorter story — I began studying Western Martial Arts, and I used that as my inspiration. I chose the Holy Roman Empire of the mid-15th Century as a loose basis for the setting and created a new world built around that society and history. I retained something of the protagonist of that first short story, and tweaked her background a bit further. I also gave her a traveling companion rather than having her on her own, and set my two ne’er-do-wells on an adventure that was a bit over their heads, but not so much that I risked veering into Grimdark.
That was how my first published work, No Good Deed..., came to fruition, and it all began with the words “So you want to be a hero...” on the back of a game box.